Brief Review: The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism

 

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Captivated by an intriguing Buddhism Now review published last week http://buddhismnow.com/2015/05/21/the-princeton-dictionary-of-buddhism/#more-10775 detailing the new Dictionary of Buddhism, by Robert E. Buswell, Jr., and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (2014, Princeton University Press, 1304 pages), I ordered the volume. I went to Amazon where I found it for nearly $20 less than the suggested retail price. I decided to order the hardback volume. I found it waiting for me today when I returned to the city after the long Memorial Day weekend.

It is a large, heavy volume and the print is small. Beyond its impressive physical characteristics, the book is an exhaustive, comprehensive reference volume that explains historical, regional, linguistic, and other distinctions among the terminologies of various types of Buddhist practice and their meanings. It includes a timeline, maps and diagrams. There are cross references to words in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai in the entries themselves, plus a lengthy appendix devoted to each language. Then there are the pages devoted to the enumeration so prominent in Buddhism: e.g., the Four Noble Truths, The Five Mindfulness Trainings, The Eightfold Path, etc., and this “List of Lists” is vast indeed.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path

As a Buddhist who began by practicing alone and only later joined a sangha, I spent a very pleasurable and educational afternoon going from item to item as more words and phrases arose that I wanted to define or better understand. Thus far I am particularly impressed with the “List of Lists,” and explanations of the subtle differences among Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai terminologies.

Aquamarine 108-bead Mala, from Deviant Art

Aquamarine 108-bead Mala, from Deviant Art

 

Here are a few of the points I’ve taken from it just today:

  • The Mala (string of rosary-like beads, usually 108 beads for reciting the mantra) is held in the right hand. I was holding mine in both. It takes some dexterity to advance from one bead to the next with one hand. Another aid to keeping focused while sitting.
  • The Heart Sutra is one of the most widely recited of all the sutras.
    The mantra of the Heart Sutra, Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha, speaks to transcending both worldly limitations and sensual desires and as well as arriving at the sublime, free from rebirth. Repeating it is thought to enable those who recite it and those who hear it to transcend samsara, the cycle if birth, death and rebirth.
  • Buddhism spread from Himalayan India into all of Asia over a period over just a few centuries.
  • The word Dao was mistranslated as Tao by an English scholar.
  • Self-immolation is an ancient and continuing form of denial of the earthly self as well as a powerful form of protest, perhaps the most famous being that in 1963 of Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc. His heart remained after his body was reduced by fire to bone and ash, and the relic has been preserved. If you wish to see it, a video of his immolation can be seen online. A yoga teacher once urged me to view it. I did so and found it powerfully moving, albeit disturbing. David Halberstam’s eyewitness account is riveting: http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/vietnam/figure/003-htQuangduc.htm.

That is what I am able to retain well enough to share it with you. I have rarely enjoyed a newly acquired book as much.

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The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore

 

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

 

We are so very fortunate that on September 11, 2014, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, called Thay (“teacher”) by his followers, presented a brand new English translation of the ancient Sanskrit text known as the Heart Sutra, one which he said corrects an error in translation made approximately 2,000 years ago. Recently I wrote a piece here about the Heart Sutra, and I now happily share this version with you. Thay calls this, based on the original texts, “The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.” If you go to the Plum Village website you will find the details and more information. Here is the retranslation:

Thay’s retranslation of the New Heart Sutra, in English, September 11th, 2014

The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore

Avalokiteshvara
while practicing deeply with
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,
suddenly discovered that
all of the five Skandhas are equally empty,
and with this realisation
he overcame all Ill-being.

“Listen Sariputra,
this Body itself is Emptiness
and Emptiness itself is this Body.
This Body is not other than Emptiness
and Emptiness is not other than this Body.
The same is true of Feelings,
Perceptions, Mental Formations,
and Consciousness.

“Listen Sariputra,
all phenomena bear the mark of Emptiness;
their true nature is the nature of
no Birth no Death,
no Being no Non-being,
no Defilement no Immaculacy,
no Increasing no Decreasing.

“That is why in Emptiness,
Body, Feelings, Perceptions,
Mental Formations and Consciousness
are not separate self entities.

The Eighteen Realms of Phenomena
which are the six Sense Organs,
the six Sense Objects,
and the six Consciousnesses
are also not separate self entities.

The Twelve Links of Interdependent Arising
and their Extinction
are also not separate self entities.
Ill-being, the Causes of Ill-being,
the End of Ill-being, the Path,
insight and attainment,
are also not separate self entities.

Whoever can see this
no longer needs anything to attain.
Bodhisattvas who practice
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
see no more obstacles in their mind,
and because there
are no more obstacles in their mind,
they can overcome all fear,
destroy all wrong perceptions
and realize Perfect Nirvana.

“All Buddhas in the past, present and future
by practicing
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
are all capable of attaining
Authentic and Perfect Enlightenment.

“Therefore Sariputra,
it should be known that
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
is a Great Mantra,
the most illuminating mantra,
the highest mantra,
a mantra beyond compare,
the True Wisdom that has the power
to put an end to all kinds of suffering.
Therefore let us proclaim
a mantra to praise
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!”

 

The mantra Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi, Svaha, means, as said in my previous post, “Om, Gone, Gone Beyond, Gone Completely Beyond, Awake, So Be It.”

If you would like to listen to a chanting of the mantra, here is a version by Deva Premal and the Gyuto monks of Tibet.  Deva Premal begins chanting in a lilting voice, later accompanying the rumbling voices of the monks. The Tibetan monks here chant in a deep, bass throat singing characteristic of much Tibetan chanting, repeating the mantra 108 times:

 

 

 Shakyamuni Buddha

Namaste

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The Heart Sutra

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can invite the right spiritual energy into our lives and our being by beginning each day with reading the Heart Sutra (formally called The Perfect Wisdom of the Heart Sutra) or by chanting the brief mantra associated with it. This sutra reminds us that all aspects of life as we live it now as mortal beings are transitory. Form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness are all emptiness. It means, as this Buddhist psychologist attempts to comprehend it, that we are free, if we are willing to exercise that freedom, to disregard and stop worrying about appearance, the ageing process, and death. Appearance will fade, ageing will occur, and death will come. To every living thing.

The Perfect Wisdom of the Heart Sutra*

When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound Prajna Paramita,
he illuminated the Five Skandhas and saw that they are all empty,
and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.

Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness;
emptiness does not differ from form.
Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form.
So too are feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness.

Shariputra, all Dharmas are empty of characteristics.
They are not produced, not destroyed, not defiled, not pure;
and they neither increase nor diminish.
Therefore, in emptiness there is no form, feeling, cognition, formation, or consciousness;
no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind;
no sights, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, or Dharmas;
no field of the eyes up to and including no field of mind consciousness;
and no ignorance or ending of ignorance,
up to and including no old age and death or ending of old age and death.
There is no suffering, no accumulating, no extinction, and no Way,
and no understanding and no attaining.

Because nothing is attained,
the Bodhisattva through reliance on Prajna Paramita is unimpeded in his mind.
Because there is no impediment, he is not afraid,
and he leaves distorted dream-thinking far behind.
Ultimately Nirvana!
All Buddhas of the three periods of time attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi
through reliance on Prajna Paramita.
Therefore know that Prajna Paramita is a Great Spiritual Mantra,
a Great Bright Mantra, a Supreme Mantra, an Unequalled Mantra.
It can remove all suffering; it is genuine and not false.
That is why the Mantra of Prajna Paramita was spoken. Recite it like this:

Gaté Gaté Paragaté Parasamgaté

Bodhi Svaha!

End of The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra

* translation attributed to the Buddhist Text Society, and available online here: http://www.dharmabliss.org/audio/heartsutra-engtext.htm

 

———-o0o———-

If you would like to hear this sutra recited as it is done in some Buddhist sanghas, intoned rhythmically, the video below will provide it.  It is also helpful if you wish to know how to pronounce the mantra. As the esteemed Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has said, one translation of the mantra is,

Om

Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond

Gone Completely Beyond

Awake, So Be It!

 

Reading or reciting the Heart Sutra daily can do wonders for our perspective on our lives. We can use it during our meditation or at any other time when we can take a moment to read or recite it. I put it into my iPhone as a PDF and read it from iBooks while riding the subway each morning, a wonderful way to jump-start a busy workday.  The Heart Sutra reminds us how fleeting are our characteristics of form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness, and this practice redirects our attention to more salient matters.

Namaste

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O Death

Muerta, courtesy of Rachel's Tacqueria, Brooklyn

Muerta, courtesy of Rachel’s Tacqueria, Brooklyn

O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?

–1 Corinthians 15:55

O death.

We have been socialized in our Western culture to fear death, to shrink from confrontation with it, and yet we also experience a fascination sometimes with stories about death and loss, morbid curiosity, as it were, although many would deny it.

Today, as every day, in the news, we can see the hand of death everywhere:

  • The Malaysian Air flight missing in the South Indian Ocean with over 200 souls on board
  • The landslide in Washington State that has swept away neighborhoods and taken many lives
  • A man killed on the train platform in New Jersey as he falls before the coming train, amid a crowd of horrified fellow travelers
  • Four healthy lions euthanized in a Danish zoo to make way for a new lion coming into the zoo

Our life experiences eventually bring home to us the fact that all life forms are temporary, and that all living beings will die. As children we may first learn about this truth when a pet dies. Next it might be a grandparent. In our middle years or later, typically, we lose our parents to death. Although it seems that it should never happen, we may lose children to death long before there is any sense it might be “time.” But of course, for most of us, it never feels like the right time for death, except perhaps when we or a loved one are ravaged by illness. Then there is suicide, a potent reminder of how sudden and seemingly permanent death can be and how painful for those who remain behind, trying to figure out why and how and what might we have done to prevent it. And similar, but different from suicide, is the self-immolation of monks making a stark statement about injustice. This is usually accompanied by deep meditative concentration and thoughts of words of the Buddha such as the Heart Sutra.

And for all those dear friends and loved ones who touch our lives for good before their time on earth is done, we find ourselves remembering and missing them intensely until time, a great healer, takes much of the pain of loss away. And so it is.

As we study the wisdom of those who have lived and died before us, we may find peace in believing we all will pass through the gate from life to death and into life again. And all will be well, whether or not we truly understand it now.

O death, how we wish away your reality and only meet you on your terms when at last we are ready to understand your truths. I leave you with the immortal music of Ralph Stanley singing “O, Death”:

And today, this is my practice.

Namaste

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